Thursday, June 20, 2013

Spending a Night In Korah, Ethiopia!

Blog by Ryan Daly, OH Videographer and Team Leader


The story behind the video....


One unforgettable night started with a torrential downpour.

I had a chance to experience spending a night in one of the poorest communities in Ethiopia: Korah.

Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia and has a population of over six million people.

Within the city is a community centered around a trash dump where over 120,000 people live within a one and a half mile radius. This is where the poorest of the poor in Addis live.

Ordinary Hero serves this community.

Korah is a community that is eye opening and gut wrenching for first time visitors from America. The level of poverty there is severe.

Bizzy, the Ordinary Hero representative in Ethiopia, is a former resident of Korah who started a church that now pours back into the community.

The pastor of this church is Pastor Tesfye. Bizzy and Tesfye have been friends for over 12 years and both have an intense love for the people of their community.

The main job that Pastor Tesfye has is getting sponsorships for families that are in the most need in the community. He is a living testimony and an extraordinary example of how sponsorships can save and transform someone’s life.

Being the story teller I am, I decided that it would be incredible to live just one night in Korah and stay with a family living in extreme poverty to show how the families Ordinary Hero serves lives.

My chance to experience that was the night of June 17.

Bizzy had contacted Pastor Tesfye who graciously agreed to stay the night with me in Korah.

I was picked up around 6:30 pm at the Ordinary Hero guesthouse by Tesfye and a driver and headed to Korah.


Just as we arrived it began to rain very hard. We were dropped off near the church and I followed Pastor Tesfye into a house next to the church.

We waited out the rain for over thirty minutes with two women in the house and Teddy, an 18-year-old kid who’s life Tesfye is pouring into.

I later discovered that the house we waited in was a prostitution house.

Prostitution is a major problem within the community as well as HIV, leprosy and of course, poverty.

After the rain stopped we went next door to the church where we met the church evangelist, all four of us prayed before we headed to where we were staying for the night.

While waiting for Tesfye to organize some things, I began to talk to Teddy a little more and what I discovered impacted me in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Teddy is an orphan who grew up in the countryside. He now lives in Korah and is constantly smiling.

He doesn’t have a job because there are very few in the community, so he gets by any way he can and sleeps where he can find a place each night.

As we are talking he mentions that he eats whenever he can but there are often days when he eats nothing. I ask if he is hungry, naturally he is, so I offered him a pack of pop tarts I had brought with me.

I find it’s often easy to think you’re selfless when you have plenty, but seeing Teddy, a kid with nothing but the clothes on his back, immediately offer to share the pop tarts with me really did something to me.

Here I was thinking I was doing such a good deed by giving a hungry kid some food and the first thing he does, without even thinking twice, is offer to share with me.

Even in a “selfless” moment I was at my core, selfish. It took a skinny, six foot tall walking smile to show me that.

Home for the Night

Anyone who has ever been to Korah knows that the roads aren’t paved and can often be hard to walk during the day. This became even more of a challenge at night after a heavy rain.

After 15 mud soaked minutes we arrived at the house where I would be staying the night.

Most of the homes in Korah are connected by mud walls and share a tin roof. It’s a very densely populated community so in each home there are normally multiple families living there.

The area where I was staying had a group of three homes. I was given a quick tour of each home.

These homes are more accurately rooms. Multiple families live in what is often time no bigger than an average sized living room in the United States.

As I entered the home where I was staying they were already making me my bed.

My bed for my night in Korah
My bed for the night was plastic potato sacks on the ground and a smaller bag rolled up for my pillow.

It’s hard for me to put into words the smell that encapsulated the home. It smelled like a mixture of garbage, onions, body odor and dirt.

It was not a pleasant smell.

Pastor Tesfye, myself and Teddy would be sharing this home with five families, thirteen people total, including four children under the age of seven.

As I settled in, the women began making coffee and anjeria (a traditional Ethiopian bread that is very spongy and eaten for almost every meal).

I then began to get the rundown on what to expect for my night (through my translator, Tesfye).

The members of this home told me of their lice problem and that it wasn’t uncommon for rats to run across the floor during the night.

I had gone into the night not expecting to get much, if any, sleep but this information confirmed my assumption. This would be a very sleepless night.

The next few hours were spent listening to Amharic (the native language) and having Tesfye or Teddy (who speaks a little broken English) translate anything they thought was relevant to me.

Pastor Tesfye

The topics of conversation involved the small amount pastor Tesfye knows about the NBA (“LeBron James is a very impressive athlete” “#1 for the Heat seems like he should be better” “Ray Allen…beautiful shot!” Even in Ethiopia where basketball isn’t popular, some things are obvious!) and the differences between America and Africa.

The further the night went on I realized how intelligent a man pastor Tesfye is.

He has two degrees from university here in Addis (which was made possible through a sponsor. His testimony is in the video of my night.) and he loves to read.

He knows a lot about America (ex: When he learned I grew up in Ohio his first comment was: “Ohio, yes, that’s where many US presidents are from.” I know people stateside who don’t even know that.)

I also learned that Teddy has had a sponsor, but the last couple of months the sponsor “has forgotten me”.

I was seeing first hand the impact of sponsoring and the incredible need for it in Korah.

Pastor Tesfye’s testimony especially hit a cord with me. He never met the American who sponsored him and “saved my life. He helped make me into a man.”

Tesfye went from eating out of the dump and nearly dying of food poisoning to having two degrees and becoming a pastor, serving the same community he grew up in and impacting countless lives every day.

Tesfye is a husband and recent father to a little boy. His heart and passion can be found in the very people and community where he lives. His heart for his community flows out of the very words he speaks.

Everything we talked about circled back to the need and his passion for helping his community. It was inspiring to see such love being played out in actions and not just lip service.

Pastor Tesfy
“In Heaven, We Will All Speak the Same Language”

Much like a puzzle, those that slept on the floor found a space and angle where they fit and laid down.

As I pull my damp hoodie over my head and try to get some sleep the pungent smell of rotten onions and garlic powder hits me like a wall.

I am sleeping next to a family’s bed and under the bed the grandfather is keeping a sack of onions he has gathered from the dump. Even the thought of this smell initiates a gag reflex in me as I write this.

I manage to get in an hour of sleep on my makeshift bed. The ground is lumpy and hard and the sensation of bugs crawling all over my body keeps my mind from resting.

As I laid on the ground I was overwhelmed with so many emotions I wasn't sure how to sort what exactly I was feeling.

I did not choose to be born in America nor did these people choose to be born in Addis. I am no better than these people just because I know where my next meal is coming from or have a nice place to live.

God doesn’t love these people any less than He does me, but because I have been blessed with so much I feel that it is my calling to tell the story of those who cannot tell it themselves.

If I can help make even a small difference in the life of one person, that difference can be eternal.

Tesfye and Teddy and two of the mothers both seem to be in the same boat as I am concerning sleep because when I awake from my quick nap they are already awake and talking.

They are quick to engage me in conversation after Teddy asks why I’m so quiet. The reason I was being so quiet was twofold, first the language barrier. Secondly, I was rather overwhelmed by my experience and didn’t know exactly what to talk about.

I know a few phrases in Amharic and love seeing Ethiopians smile and laugh hearing the American accent I say them in.

After noticing me yawning one of the women asked if I was ok, I answered “chickalaylum” (I’m not sure of the spelling but this is how I enunciate it) which means “no problem.”

This of course causes those awake to have a good laugh.

This exchange prompted Pastor Tesfye to say, “In heaven, we will all speak the same language. There will be no poor or sick, we will worship Jesus together.” 

I’ve heard many people talk about being together in heaven one day, but hearing it said it to me as I lay on a potato sack halfway across the world amongst some of the poorest people on earth, it means much more.

We are from two very different cultures but the same God that loves me, loves these people.  

Learning More About Africa

The next five hours is spent in conversation with those that are awake. The single light dangling from the ceiling illuminates most of the room as we talk about Pastor Tesfye’s trip to America this past May.

He traveled to South Dakota for a leadership conference, paid for by a sponsor in Indiana who knows Bizzy.

I always love hearing what people who have never been to America think of it, I’m always curious what they notice and experience.

Having traveled to Africa many times one of the big differences in culture I’ve noticed is community. African cultures thrive off of community. Everywhere that you go, everyone is walking around and greeting each other, friend or stranger.

In the US we tend to stay in our homes, drive to work and often times not even know the names of our neighbors. This difference and of course how “extra wide” a lot of Americans are, these are two of the biggest observations made by Tesfye.

The women stayed awake most of the night with their three visitors. They don’t sleep much because of the lice bothering their skin.

As time began to slowly pass by I learned a lot about Ethiopian history and Amharic. At one point I asked if English was hard for Tesfye and he admitted it was, mostly because of silent letters.

“You add letters to words that you don’t say, like “would”, you don’t pronounce the “L”, it makes no sense. It is a stupid language sometimes.”

I smile and tell him that I agree. It is a rather confusing language. He did admit that having vowels is very smart, it limits the letters we need in the alphabet. The Amharic alphabet has over 250 letters.

Something Among Nothing

5:50 am, the sun begins to rise and the shuffling sound of people from the other two houses leaving to go to the streets to beg for the day arises outside of our door.

It breaks my heart that many in the community live by begging. Many are not in good health or are lepers and cannot travel far so they beg in Korah. The poor begging for something among nothing.

The hospitality I have been shown the entire stay continues as the women begin to light up their tiny stoves and boil water to make coffee to offer to me. They use plastic to help catch their wood on fire, the smell of melted plastic now becomes the aroma as smoke fills up the room.

Being innately selfish and self centered, I reflect on the kindness, smiles and general hope that these people carry. I found myself asking what makes them get up in the morning each day? What hope does each day bring for someone who may not find food to eat?

The answer I find from this house is simple: love and hope.

As the sunlight begins to trickle in through the crack above the door, songs of praise and worship begin to trickle out.

Teddy, Tesfye and one of the women begin to sing in Amharic, sing of the great love of God and thankfulness for seeing a new day.

The love of God gives them hope. Hope for a better future, hope for their community, hope for life.

They have little to nothing and yet wake up singing songs of praise and gratitude. Instantly I feel a sense of guilt creep into my mind as I think of all the times I complain about trivial things and don’t make time enough to even stop and thank God for letting me see a new day.

Even if you have nothing, you have something. You have your previous breath, you have a beating heart and you have the ability to make the most out of whatever situation you face. Because God is love, everyone has hope.

The Walk Back

Shortly after 6 am Tesfye informs me we can walk back to the church and Bizzy will have a driver come pick me up.

The walk back to the church was different from the many times I’ve walked through Korah before. I saw these people in a different light.

I still had a compassion and pity for them but it was based on their physical situation. Many of the people of Korah were poor in wealth but not in mind.

The people smiled at me as I walked and greeted them. The kids ran up to me smiling and grabbing my hand. No one asked me for anything, they all smiled at hearing me speak broken Amharic and snap a photo.

I went into my night hoping to capture a situation of a family in need so that I can help people in America see that they are not helping some faceless African child, but real, loving people who’s lives change when someone halfway around the world supports them.

 What I got was that and so much more. I was leaving Korah dirty, bug bite ridden and tired but full of a new outlook on so many things. Grace, appreciation, love, hope, gratefulness, hospitality….the list could go on.

I spent a night among people who had almost nothing and walked away with something. 

If you would like more information on this family and many others in Korah and how you can help please email Ordinary Hero at

Click Here to visit Ryan's blog to see more of his amazing work!

1 comment:

  1. I love reading this. I love seeing Tesfaye connect with other people. I love that you recognize the spiritual poverty vs the material poverty. I am still wrestling with staying at Tesfaye's home in Korah for a week, a couple months back. The generosity still amazes me.